What are nootropics?
Nootropics are supplements made from a combination of vitamins, herbs, and other compounds that are designed to increase your focus, memory, and cognitive ability.
But does this mean you can just take any nootropic and get smarter and more mentally agile?
Not so quick, my friend.
There have been many advances in the past few decades in nootropics. It’s completely understandable. If you could eat something and become instantly better, wouldn’t you want to do it?
Sure. And that’s why there have been so many studies on nootropics. You’ve been told that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. But let’s focus on one word in that sentence: “probably”.
How do nootropics work?
Before I go any further, it’s important to note that by taking a nootropic or a smart drug, you’re not going to unlock mysterious powers that weren’t there before. You’re not going to become Professor Xavier and regrettably, you won’t be able to suddenly use the force if you couldn’t before.
Nootropics simply give you the tools to fine-tune your mind and turn it into a steel trap that you can pull anything out of at any time – as long as you work at it. What I mean is that nootropics can give you the ability to focus. Because you have the ability to focus, you’re better able to remember what you’ve read, watched, or heard. And because you can remember that, you can pull it from your brain later and speak intelligently about it.
Nootropics generally have some effect on either the neurotransmitters or have a protectant effect on your brain’s cells. The latter is targeted at long-term brain health with the hope that you don’t become prone to the mental degradation so common with old age. To be truly effective, these ingredients must cross the blood-brain barrier. If they’re not able to do that, they’re not able to do anything for your brain.
When looking for a nootropic, you want to see that it has some sort of effect on GABA, serotonin, or dopamine. All of these are neurotransmitters. By increasing them, you’re allowing your brain to work more effectively. You’ve seen it in football matches – an OK team can overcome a great team simply by communicating more effectively. It’s nothing fancy, yet it is an incredibly powerful strategy that can overcome the greatest obstacles.
Other effective nootropic ingredients help by supplying blood flow and energy to your brain. Your brain, after all, is a muscle. So similar to how people like to supply nitric oxide to their leg muscles to reduce fatigue while squatting, something like vinpocetine can increase blood flow to your brain for increased performance.
What to look for in a nootropic
If you read everything before this and remember it all, awesome. If not (or if you just want to look a list and see what you need), here’s a short list of what you should look for in a quality nootropic.
- Science-backed: Your brain is precious, so don’t foul it up with ingredients that haven’t been tested.
- Doesn’t contain caffeine or stimulants: You’ll definitely feel something with them, but that’s not the sort of focus you want. You want sustained focus instead of something that’s only going to last you an hour or less. Plus, excess caffeine will negatively affect your cortisol levels and can throw your body out of whack.
- Contains significant levels of the effective ingredients: All too often companies will put small amounts of ingredients in their products to make consumers think they’ll have some effect on them. If it’s part of a proprietary blend or there’s not an amount specified next to it, chances are it won’t have the effect you want.
- Contains ingredients that will protect your brain: Helping you focus is only part of the equation. You want a supplement that will help your brain health from the increased activity.
Natural ways to increase your memory and focus
Before you go out and start spending money on supplements, there are some incredibly simple things you can do increase your memory and focus.
There’s simply no reason you shouldn’t be exercising at least every other day. There are far too many benefits: stress reduction, better sleep, decreases your risk of dying from heart disease, prevents diabetes…
I haven’t even listed everything, but take a look at that again. If you want to truly be the best version of yourself, it’s in your best interest to exercise. Not only does it help your physical health and prevent many of the common reasons people die, it also benefits your brain tremendously.
Exercising regularly can help you grow new blood vessels in your brain. Reminder: more blood = more computing power. Beyond that, it can also make certain areas of your brain larger. And who doesn’t want a bigger brain?
Write It Down
Writing won’t increase your focus, but it can certainly help your memory.
So instead of trying to remember words you’ve heard, try remembering words you’ve heard AND seen. Bonus points if you draw pictures next to the words to really cement them in your mind.
Trust me, it’s a lot easier to remember something if you take the time to write it down because you’re using 2 more senses (touch when you write it down and sight when you look at it).
Meditation is not nearly as simple as writing something down. But the benefits are worth it. It can be difficult and unfortunately, that’s what keeps most people from meditating frequently. But it doesn’t have to be.
Start with just a few minutes a day. During those couple of minutes, try clearing your mind. For the first week or so, this is probably going to feel nearly impossible. And that’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with you. Your mind is all over the place. If it wasn’t you probably wouldn’t be reading this article about nootropics. However, as time goes on and you work at it, you’ll gradually be able to control your mind. You’ll be able to focus at will and you’ll reduce your stress. Stress, remarkably is one of the top reasons people have trouble with their memory and focus.
When it becomes a daily habit and you can focus, start increasing the amount of time you meditate for and actually sent an intention – a reason why you’re meditating or something to focus on during your meditation. I promise you, you’ll find yourself feeling a lot better about living in a world of perceived chaos.
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Tony Gill – Utmost Me Lead Health Writer